Bed Sheets vs Bed Covers: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to bedding, the terms “bed sheets” and “bed covers” are often used interchangeably. However, there are some key differences between bed sheets and covers that are important to understand when shopping for and choosing bedding.

This article will compare bed sheets and bed covers – their definitions, materials, uses, and pros and cons. It will also provide tips on choosing the right bedding for your needs.

Defining Bed Sheets and Bed Covers

Bed Sheets

Bed Sheets

The sheet is the layer of bedding that immediately covers the mattress. Bed sheets wrap around the mattress and tuck underneath to stay in place.

Sheets are designed to protect the mattress, provide comfort for sleeping, and absorb sweat and body oils. Usually made of soft, breathable fabrics like cotton or linen, sheets touch the skin directly.

Some key types of bed sheets:

  • Flat sheet – A flat, rectangular sheet that goes on top of the fitted sheet.
  • Fitted sheet – Designed with elastic corners to fit snugly over the mattress.
  • Pillowcase – A sleeve that covers pillow inserts.

Bed Covers

Bed Covers

Bed covers refer to layers of bedding that go on top of bed sheets for warmth, decoration, and protection. Examples include:

  • Comforter – A quilted blanket that provides warmth without weight. Filled with down, feathers, or an alternative fill.
  • Duvet cover – A removable cover that goes over and protects a duvet insert. Usually has button or tie closures.
  • Quilt – A type of blanket with box-stitching to prevent fill from shifting.
  • Blanket – A layer of warm fabric for extra coverage while sleeping.
  • Bedspread – A decorative top layer that coordinates with the bedding theme.
  • Duster – A light, decorative layer at the foot of the bed.

So in summary, sheets cover the mattress itself while the bed covers the layer on top of the sheets. Now let’s compare their key characteristics in more detail.

Bed Sheets vs. Bed Covers Comparison Chart

Bed SheetsBed Covers
DefinitionThe layer directly on the mattressLayers on top of sheets
Common TypesFitted, flat, pillowcasesComforters, duvets, quilts
MaterialsCotton, linen, silkCotton, down, wool, polyester
PurposeProtect mattress, comfort, absorb moistureAdd warmth, decoration
Wash Frequency1-2x per weekFew times per year
ProsBreathable, absorbentWarmth, decoration, variety
ConsWrinkle easily, stainHeavy, less breathable

Material Differences

One of the main differences between sheets and bed covers is the type of materials used.

Bed Sheet Materials

Cotton and linen are the most breathable, comfortable materials for bed sheets:

  • Cotton – Naturally soft and breathable. Comes in varieties like percale, sateen, and jersey. Durable, affordable, and easy to clean.
  • Linen – Made from flax plant fibers. Very lightweight and moisture-wicking. Has a natural luster that softens over time. Expensive but very long-lasting.

Other sheet materials include:

  • Silk – Extremely soft but delicate and high maintenance. Ideal for warmer climates.
  • Flannel – Made from woven cotton. Extra soft and warm, ideal for winter.
  • Bamboo – Eco-friendly viscose made from bamboo pulp. Very soft, moisture-wicking, and temperature-regulating.
  • Microfiber – Synthetic polyester/polyamide blend. Affordable, soft, durable and wrinkle-resistant. Not as breathable.
  • Polyester – Synthetic material that is wrinkle and fade-resistant. Not as breathable as natural fibers. Budget option.

Bed Cover Materials

Covers have more fill and use heavier fabrics. Common materials include:

  • Cotton – Provides breathability. Used in lightweight quilts and coverlets.
  • Linen – Lightweight and moisture-wicking. Ideal for duvet covers.
  • Silk – Very luxurious but high maintenance. Sometimes used in decorative bedspreads or shams.
  • Flannel – Soft, insulating cotton flannel used in blankets and quilts.
  • Wool – Naturally moisture-wicking and insulating. Used as fills in quilts or blankets.
  • Down – Luxurious, fluffy downfill from ducks or geese. Very warm and insulating.
  • Polyester – Synthetic fill like microfiber, popular for affordability and hypoallergenic properties.
  • Faux Fur – Used to make decorative bedspreads and coverlets. Extremely soft and cozy.

So in choosing bedding, natural breathable fabrics like cotton and linen work best for sheets, while heavier fabrics and fills are ideal for covers.

Usage and Purpose

Bed Sheets

Sheets and covers also serve different purposes when making the bed:

Bed Sheets Use and Purpose

  • Cover and protect the mattress
  • Absorb sweat, body oils, and allergens
  • Provide a smooth, comfortable surface for sleeping
  • Allow airflow to help regulate body temperature
  • Launder easily to remove odors, sweat, and dead skin cells
  • Change frequently for hygienic reasons

Bed Cover Use and Purpose

  • Add warmth for sleeping comfort
  • Trap heat from the body to keep you cozy
  • Provide weight without compressing like a blanket
  • Decorate and complement room aesthetics
  • Protect sheets and extend time between washing
  • Change infrequently or seasonally

So in summary, sheets have a utilitarian purpose to cover the mattress, while covers provide extra comfort, style, and warmth.

Pros and Cons

Finally, let’s compare the advantages and disadvantages of bed sheets vs. covers.

Bed Sheet Pros and Cons


  • Softer, thinner, and more breathable
  • Allow air to flow and regulate temperature
  • Absorb moisture to keep sleepers dry
  • Launder easily and can be bleached
  • Should be changed 1-2x per week for hygiene


  • Wrinkle easily
  • Can pill with low thread counts
  • Stain easily
  • Single stain can ruin the whole set
  • Require more frequent washing

Bed Cover Pros and Cons


  • Provide extra warmth and weight
  • Trap body heat to maintain warmth
  • Variety of fills for different insulation
  • Only need washing a few times per year
  • Can be decorative as well as functional


  • Thicker and heavier than sheets
  • Not as breathable, can cause overheating
  • Takes longer to dry when washed
  • Fill can clump or shift over time
  • Stains not as easily removed

Considering the pros and cons of each can help guide your bedding purchases. For example, those who run cold may want warmer covers, while hot sleepers need breathable sheets.

Tips for Choosing Bedding

When it comes to choosing sheets versus covers, keep these tips in mind:

  • Pick sheets in breathable natural fabrics like cotton, linen, or bamboo. Percale or sateen cotton is versatile.
  • Choose covers that match your warmth needs – down or thick quilts for cold sleepers, a lightweight cotton or poly fill for those who run warm.
  • Don’t skimp on thread count for sheets – aim for at least 200 for softness and durability.
  • Buy sheet sets all at once for a cohesive look.
  • For covers, decide if you want lightweight layers or a single substantial cover.
  • Purchase sheets in multiple sets to allow frequent laundering. Covers can be washed less often.
  • Evaluate fill power for down comforters – 600-fill and up offers the most loft and warmth.
  • Read labels closely and avoid blended fabrics that may pill or shrink.
  • Feel fabric swatches in person when possible to evaluate softness.

Prioritizing comfort, quality, and your specific needs will ensure you select bedding that suits your lifestyle. With the right combination of sheets and covers, you can create a heavenly bed for peaceful slumber.

Beyond the basic comparisons in materials, purpose, and pros and cons, bed sheets and bed covers have some additional key differences worth noting.

Temperature Regulation

Bed sheets made of lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton and linen are much better at allowing airflow and dissipating body heat throughout the night. This makes them ideal for warm sleepers or hot climates.

Covers trap heat more effectively thanks to their fills and heavier fabrics. This benefits cold sleepers who want added warmth, but could cause overheating issues for those who sleep hot.

Ease of Cleaning

Cotton, linen, and bamboo sheets can easily be machine washed and dried at home. They can even be bleached to keep them fresh and bright.

Covers should be professionally cleaned to protect the inner fill. At home, spot clean when possible and only wash covers every few months or when soiled. Take care when drying to avoid clumping.


The thin nature of bed sheets means they are more prone to rips, tears, and pilling with extended use and washing. Lower thread count sheets also deteriorate faster.

Covers are inherently more durable thanks to their thicker fabrics and reinforced stitching. With proper care, a quality down comforter or quilt can last for many years.

Year-Round Use

Sheets are used year-round as the base layer in contact with skin. Lighter cottons can be used in summer, warm flannel in winter.

Covers are more seasonal – families often switch out lightweight summer covers for heavier winter versions based on the weather.

Replacement Schedule

Expect to replace sheets every 2-5 years with regular use. Higher thread count sheets or natural materials like linen and bamboo sheets will last longer.

Covers have a longer lifespan, often lasting 5-10 years or longer. You may need interim repairs, but with care most covers don’t need full replacement for years.

Sleep Position Needs

Your sleep position also impacts bedding needs:

  • Side sleepers need softer sheets and blankets to cushion pressure points at shoulders and hips.
  • Back sleepers need adequate surface-level padding from sheets, but less overhead weight from covers.
  • Stomach sleepers generally prefer lighter bedding overall to avoid overheating.

Bedding for Guests/Kids

It’s smart to invest in high-quality sheets and covers for the master bed. For kids’ rooms or guest beds, more budget-friendly bedding may suffice since it won’t be used as heavily.

Focus on durability and easy care for kids’ sheets and covers. For guest rooms, choose sheets and covers in neutral colors for versatility.

Cost Differences

Quality bed sheets range from $50 to $500+ depending on the material and thread count. Cover costs vary widely based on size, fabric, and fill materials, starting around $100 and going up to many thousands for luxury versions.